by Elizabeth Knox
Canny is 16 years old and lives in a world "very like our own" in 1959. She is a mathematical genius, remembers pretty much everything, and has the unique ability to see "Extra," which she later discovers is part of an intricate magic system that only some can use,
mainly the Zarenes. The Zarenes are a family that live in Zarene Valley, and Canny stumbles upon them while traveling with her older brother, Sholto, and his girlfriend, Susan, on a research project of the 1929 coal mine explosion that happened near the valley. The only Zarenes that live in the valley are between five and thirteen, plus Iris, Cyrus, Lealand, and Ghislain. Canny spends a lot of time wandering around, lying to her brother, and discovering the secrets of the valley and her past. After quite a lot of this, the end happens. And it's not because she figures anything out. It just happens. Canny comes up with various ways to do what she wants, most of which involve telling her brother somewhat unnecessary lies. A little deception might be necessary, but the amount of lies she tells is far outweighs this necessity. Despite being presented as someone who acts and thinks based purely on logic, Canny constantly reacts illogically. Her interactions with Cyrus made little sense, and I gave up trying to follow her thought processes halfway through the book. Furthermore, the conversations in the book do not feel like real conversations. They are exchanges of words between the characters so that they can have interactions. While reading this book, I felt like I did when I read Shakespeare for the very first time. As you read, you get the general gist of what's going on, usually, but you miss a lot of the individual actions and happenings that make the story feel real. The author often implied action rather than described them. Sholto and Susan felt like shells of characters rather than characters with depth. They acted as Canny or the plot required, and I got little sense of personality from them because it changed so much. The book also mentioned that Canny and Susan dislike each other, but it was almost impossible to tell this from their actions. It says they complain about each other a lot, but it only ever tells you that they complain, and it does not show them complaining about each other.
What made the entire book even more disappointing was that it could have been beautiful. There were some nice parts that could have been wonderful if the book had been written better, but lack of emotional consistency ruined them. The end would have been so much more poignant if it had been set up.
Overall, the book is a 2. It is your least favorite flavor of meringue. The magic and histories were interesting, but the book was a chore to read. After biting into a meringue, it dissolves away in your mouth. After reading passages of the book, you have to let them dissolve within your head and just keep on reading. It is not an action-packed book, it is a wandering book. There is lots of air and less substance than I would like.